Home Automation

 

 

Any dark areas you'd like lighted as you enter them at night?

Want your bathroom heated for a while before your morning shower?

Going away on vacation for a few weeks and prefer your house to look lived-in?

Want a smarter house but don't want to knock down walls, re-wire it, and spend $10,000+ ?

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The answer may be X10 technology. X10 (USA) Inc. builds devices which utilize existing 120v 60hz house current to send and receive signals which can be used to automate many of the routine functions necessary around your house today. You don't have to be an electrical engineer to install and maintain these devices, and they can be purchased for as little as $9 or $10 each - sometimes less. One of these devices, a TW-523 can be connected to a serial port of an inexpensive 286 or 386 PC which can then be left on 24 hours a day, consuming only a few dollars worth of electricity each month.

About 12 years ago I wrote a Basic program to control our house, via a TW-523 powerline interface. My wife, Pat, named it H.A.P. - Home Automation Program. For the first year or so, it ran on a 10mhz 286 PC we had outgrown and had no other use for. Later, we upgraded it to a 40mhz 386 which it still runs on today. Every hour of every day, it runs autonomously, making our lives simpler and safer. Often, 2-3 weeks or more go by without a program restart or system boot. It has its own UPS backup and can survive 15-20 minute power outages, logging to a history file on disk when the power fails and when it is restored. Since it uses the power line to send and receive signals, it can't do much during the outage, but is ready to assume control as soon as the power is restored.

In addition to turning inside lights on near dusk and turning heaters on in the bathrooms an hour before our usual wake-up time, HAP also monitors motion detectors outside and inside the house. And our X10-driven IntelliVoice allows the program to respond verbally through speakers in the ceilings of rooms throughout the house. When deer arrive to eat our plants, or wild pigs start tearing up our yard looking for grubs, or people or vehicles get near the house, HAP announces not only their presence, but their approximate location. We hear announcements - in my digitally-recorded voice - like "Motion detected on the west side", "Motion detected northeast", "Motion detected in the front yard" or "Motion detected near the front door", etc. It's very hard for anything larger than a rabbit to get near out house unannounced. It has alerted us to the arrival of squirrels, rabbits, dogs, cats, raccoons and coyotes. After sunset, HAP also turns on outside lights in the appropriate area and even activates an electronic 'dog' that barks like a territorial 70-pounder.

And speaking of sunset, HAP also uses our latitude and longitude to calculate when the sun will rise and set each day. Five minutes before sunset, we hear "Sunset in 5 minutes". And as it's setting, we hear "The sun is setting". We hate to miss good sunsets.


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